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Subway in 'footlong' food fight

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The Subway restaurant chain says the term “footlong” it uses for its sandwiches is proprietary, but an Iowa-based convenience store chain begs to differ.

Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey's General Stores Inc. is offering what it calls a “footlong,” made-to-order sub sandwiches that it has rolled out in 180 of its 1,600 Midwest stores to date.

But an attorney for Subway, which is operated by Milford, Conn.-based Doctor's Associates Inc. and has 32,800 franchises in 92 countries and territories, wrote to Casey's in late January ordering the chain to “cease and desist” from using the term “footlong” in association with sandwiches.

“There are serious concerns with respect to infringement...due to the design of your menu, menu titles, arrangement of the menu and sandwich choices,” according to Subway's letter. “Additionally, the offers of soup and pizza as well as the design of the advertising offers are all designed to cause confusion to the average consumer.”

After briefly digesting this letter, Casey's filed suit in mid-February in federal court in Des Moines, Iowa, seeking a jury trial. It seeks a declaration that using the term “footlong” does not violate “any right currently owned by Subway.”

The lawsuit says Subway has unsuccessfully sought to establish trademark rights for the term “footlong” for its sandwiches, a move several other restaurant chains have opposed.

“Subway's attempts to restrain Casey's from fairly competing by using generic terms, including the term "footlong,' constitutes unfair competition,” Casey's says in the suit, which seeks unspecified damages and expenses.